Written by Lauren Jacobsen Photos by Paul Buceta
If you’re considering adding performance-boosting supplements to your nutrition program, we don’t blame you. After all, the right nutrients taken at the right time can increase energy and strength while you train, then aid the recovery and muscle-building process after you’ve hit the showers. But before you start popping pills and downing shakes, we always recommend you check in with your doctor to make sure supplementing is right for you. Once you’ve been given the green light, check out these pre and post-workout supplements that can take your training to the next level.
You’ve no doubt heard of BCAA’s or spotted the ingredient on your tub of protein powder, but you may not know that this trio of essential nutrients can help you power through every rep while maintaining lean muscle. BCAAs, or Branched Chain Amino Acids, are comprised of the essential amino acids leucine, isoleucine and valine. While taking BCAAs both during or after your workout can be beneficial, taking a dose before you sweat delivers the biggest pay off. Here’s why: when you workout, your body guzzles your amino acids in order to fuel energy pathways. If your amino stores are not maintained and become depleted, it can lead to a protein imbalance, at which point your hard-earned muscles become the next best source of energy, causing them to break down.
Take BCAAs 15 to 30 minutes prior to exercise, to prevent muscle breakdown and fatigue during those gruelling workouts. Choose free form BCAAs, which are the most readily available, and quickest to absorb. Aim for a serving of 10 grams, with an optimal ratio of 3:2:1 of Leucine: Isoleucine: Valine.
Caffeine is by far one of the most common and effective supplements for revving your energy prior to a tough workout. Caffeine works by restraining the enzyme that inhibits the degradation of cyclic Adenosine Monophosphate (cAMP), a chemical messenger that plays a role in stimulating and prolonging the presence of the hormones epinephrine and adrenaline. This means, a bit of caffeine prior to training can boost your endurance by diminishing your perceived level of fatigue. Caffeine also has a direct effect on the central nervous system and the neurotransmitters involved in focus, allowing you to stay in the zone until the very last rep.
Supplement with 100 mg to a max dose of 250 mg of caffeine (dependent on your caffeine sensitivity), 15 to 30 minutes prior to a workout. You might want to make note: caffeine’s performance-boosting abilities are often more effective in those who don’t ingest it on a regular basis, so watch your caffeine intake when you’re not training to reap the most benefits.
Beta-Alanine is a clinically researched ingredient that has been shown to increase endurance and power during workouts. This non-essential amino acid works by increasing the level of carnosine in the muscle, which bonds with L-Histidine, an amino acid that is already abundant in the human body. Carnosine works to buffer acidic build-up in the muscles by locking up hydrogen ions, which get generated during an intense workout. By decreasing acidic build-up in the muscles this increases time to fatigue, allowing you to push through longer sets and make those last few reps really count. A potential downside to beta-alanine is it can cause a hot sensation throughout the body, but it is not experienced by everyone and is entirely dose dependent. Chat with your MD or health specialist first, then try supplementing with a dose of 1.6 to 3.2 g, 15-30 minutes prior to training.